Sponsored Interview: DevOps Trends in Enterprise Mobility

[interview]
Summary:

Dan McFall, president and CEO at Mobile Labs, chats with TechWell community manager Owen Gotimer about trends in enterprise mobility, the role DevOps and the cloud play in mobile application testing, and the transition to working from home.

Owen Gotimer

Hello, everyone. My name is Owen Gotimer. I am the community manager at TechWell. I'm joined today by Dan McFall, the President and CEO of Mobile Labs. Dan, thanks for taking the time to join me today.

Dan McFall

Thanks for having me, Owen.

Owen Gotimer

Of course. So Mobile Labs is a company that improves device and app testing quality and speed to delivery with robust device and testing tools. So Dan, I wanted to chat with you today about some of the current trends we're seeing in your space and enterprise mobility.

Dan McFall

Yeah, absolutely. I think when we originally set this up, we were going to talk a little broader. But we'll have to focus on kind of the thing we're all dealing nationally at hand right now. Even I had to sneak into our very empty office, because I've set everybody to work from home, as we deal with the coronavirus outbreak, and all engage in social distancing, and all of those types of things. But what's been interesting, is actually the demand that's created, even in the testing space for the ability to remotely access your mobile devices.

When we started Mobile Labs eight years ago, that need was driven much more by the fact that major enterprises are distributed, they've grown via acquisition. So you have people on the East Coast, the West Coast, you might outsource and offshore, and they need access to devices to be able to test against them and test your mobile applications. But what we're seeing this huge push all of a sudden, even this week, from our customers is we're sending our people home. So my test team needs to be able to still test, I still have to be able to work, I still have to be able to function. So in its own weird way, not that we were planning for this, but the cloud capability around mobile has followed the same thing everybody's talking about. You and I are using a Zoom meeting for this, Slack, all of this telecommuting that's occurring right now. The things that were tools to accelerate enterprise productivity, even in an office environment, now are being used to accelerate productivity or maintain any degree of productivity for a work from home environment. So you know, that's a news of the moment type thing, not necessarily go completely into that, but it's just an interesting point. A thing that we're seeing more and more of, and it'll be fascinating to see, I see speculation now around will this change the concept in office work for a while, because everybody actually is noticing, we're just as effective working from home. It'll be the social aspects that are going to bring us all back to the office. But that's a another longer conversation that doesn't have anything to do with what I talk about.

Broader trends, what are the things we see in the market? We still see talking about efficiency, what are we continuing to see? How do I do more without investing more, right, efficiency? How do I make my employees more productive? How do I drive them to more efficiency? And in mobility testing, software, automation, software development, those things are still really around automation, artificial intelligence, access, accountability, and visibility. All things we've seen since the beginning, but they continue to rise up now, especially automation, especially AI-driven automation. So all a part of these DevOps trends we're seeing. How do I go faster? How do I do it cheaper? How do I do it better without massive increase in expense?

Owen Gotimer

Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the interesting kind of parallels here between this work-from-home trend and the trends that we see with organizations moving towards DevOps practices is that they both really do have some emphasis in the cloud and being able to use the cloud and figuring out how to take advantage of non-local servers and machines in order to move work through our pipeline to improve our applications or improve our user experience. So I was wondering if you wanted to chat about the role that DevOps plays in mobile development, or the role that DevOps plays for mobile development and QA teams?

Dan McFall

Yeah, absolutely. And the cloud point's interesting, in general. Just as we move into this DevOps piece, I did kind of only just touch a little bit more on, it's interesting, too, because, the cloud was about being cheaper, being faster, being more efficient. But what it's also generating for a lot of people, once again, kind of in this time we're living in right now is continued business continuity. I can move things from data centers that are in virtual environments, all of those types of things, which is also an interesting benefit we're seeing from the cloud. We're seeing in our own environment, I've had to send in business continuity plans to some of our customers around those types of things. So that's the other benefit.

What those efficiencies give you when you talk about mobile development and testing is the ability to have anybody be anywhere and have your processing, your computing power, and your access happen kind of instantaneously. Without regard to physical location. One of the most challenging parts of mobile, as I grabbed my phone here, is you got to have this guy to do your mobile testing on. You have to have access to one of these. It's almost like the mainframe days all over again, they just fit in your pocket though. If you can take the opportunity in mobile to turn this into infrastructure, so just like we did with servers back in the day, and now they're sitting, whether you're in Microsoft's cloud, you're in your own data centers, but you're getting cloud based access to something like Azure, or you're using Amazon Web Services, the ability to take those devices, insert them into your process, as if they are any other piece of infrastructure is the core of bringing back mobile DevOps. So I have to be able to spin up that device just like I would spin up a virtual machine on demand as I need it, with the right configuration on it, put it in the right workflow processes and manage all of that. And that's really driven by the need for I have to go faster. I have to have my app out yesterday. It needs to be high quality, it needs to be functional. Especially in the industries we work in, lots of things with financial transaction, banking, insurance-type transactions, or even then end-user transactions. So you know, your reservations on airlines, or your reservations at hotels, all those types of things. So they require a high degree of quality. But they also require a lot of iterations of functionality. So testing is really key to that. And making sure I have multiple versions of devices with multiple versions of operating systems with all the different versions of my applications available to the resource, whether that resource is a human being doing manual testing or an automation engine doing a series of automated tests, I have to be able to service up that resource at piece of infrastructure at exactly the right time. That's part of what Mobile Labs does, but any of us in the mobile cloud space, that's the problem we're solving. How do I make a mobile device act like a virtual machine?

Owen Gotimer

It is interesting to talk about, however many years ago, one computer was taking a full room to fill up. Now we have that in our pocket where we can do the testing and spin it up as enterprise infrastructure. You're talking about the speed, the high quality, the need to iterate and make improvements to functionality. How important is it to have test automation throughout your process in order to accomplish all of those things, in order to give your users the best experience possible?

Dan McFall

Since its inception, test automation, I think is huge. Unfortunately, it gets viewed and sold a lot as a cost savings. As you know, I need fewer testers because I can do automation. And to me, it's just never been the way I've approached the concept of it, and mobile really makes the reason I'm about to kind of expand on that even more clear. It's not that I need fewer testers, it's that I need human beings testing things that human beings are good at testing: exploratory testing. Especially with mobile, because I have this weird physical interaction with the device beyond just a web page, right? What happens if I press the screen a little bit harder, tilt my device, all those types of things? Human beings are good at that. That's what we do. Is it intuitive? Automation is not going to be able to tell you if your website is intuitive; a human being does that. So the piece that I've always viewed automation, and then why in mobile, it's so key is, automation is great at boring, repetitive tasks, where I'm comparing things, where I'm validating data that's on the screen, where I'm inputting data and making sure I get the right outputs. Those are all things that are actually if you do them in a really repetitive fashion, because they're boring, they're highly prone to human error. Now, mobile steps that up because if I was doing browse a web page and I'm on a test my login screen and make sure if I put in the wrong username and password, I get the right error message. I might do it nine or ten times. A couple of different versions of browsers across a couple of different operating systems, and then I've done. Well, if you look at the proliferation across mobile, I might have 56 different variations, just iOS devices and a couple hundred variations of Android devices that I want to validate and make sure that works. And we have enough real world experience to know that you actually have to do that, like you can 100% have a bug that only shows up on a Samsung S5 running a certain version of Andriod. So automation is key, because that's going to take hours for a person to do. Hours that person's not spending on weird edge case bugs, things you haven't considered, design problems, all of those types of things. So if you're not automating as early as possible in your mobile environment, you're not going to get the results you want. You're going to be late or you're going to release something with low quality and neither one of those things are good for your customers.

Owen Gotimer

Yeah, obviously having the quality there is so key in that automation piece. To your point, I think people try to spin it as a way to reduce costs, when in reality, it's so much more valuable than just that. You're talking about the quality and that automation can do these checks and validations and whatnot for you. But it's important that this automation is then spitting out reports, and that you're able to then act on those reports where you find necessary, risk analysis, etc. What role does DevOps play and test automation play in creating those reports and those analytics, and how vital are those reports and acting on those reports when you're doing mobile application testing?

Dan McFall

Yeah, well, it's an extenuation of the same challenge, and we see this with a lot of our customers and prospective customers as well is because of the mass, just because the scale of mobile testing can be so much larger. When you're running way more test cases against all of these different versions and all these different operating systems, reporting in and of itself becomes an interesting challenge. You almost need reporting to know "great, all these tests passed," but then it might be some of these tests didn't pass. But one of the things you want to know is, unfortunately, we have a running joke, and here I am in mobile, but I have to be careful, which is I can get a better computer, but I can't pay more for it. Therefore, sometimes you might come in and you have a bunch of failures. Well, you'll want to be able to quickly ascertain, I had a device go bad, and I had like 20 test cases, or even 100 test cases, but it was about the device. I really didn't have failed test cases. But on this other hand, "Oh, no, I have actual failures. Those tests didn't execute, because I have a problem with the application. The launch didn't load, I got stuck on a screen, it froze. And we ran it a couple of times and it froze that same spot all over again." So because there's so much going on, it's such a broad scale, especially on an enterprise level, who's doing a lot of different things. The reporting becomes a means of once again, those people coming in to start to view those actual test case results, knowing very quickly, where is a high risk series of failures, where was something that was maybe just a technical snafu, if you will, and where is something that okay, it failed, but I'm not necessarily worried about it, because maybe it's the edge of a decreasing usage, OS level. So you have that piece. And then it's also, as you said, also making certain where's the risk in it? So if I'm a bank, and I'm seeing failures in things like check deposit, that is something I want 100% want to go look at versus maybe I have a typo on a screen or something along those lines. And I'm right at the end, where am I going to send my development, my even tighter resource to go look at. I want to make sure the reporting is giving me an idea of the area of the application, the suite that I've run what's happening, so that I make sure I top-down prioritize what I go validate after I run all that testing.

Owen Gotimer

It's true of test automation. It's true of mobile testing, but true of all testing. You need to look at those reports, and you need to actually use those reports and not just spin them up. There needs to be some sort of going through those reports and analyzing and figuring out which direction you want to head on certain things. So all really insightful. Just a few minutes left here, Dan. Do you have any final thoughts about the future of enterprise mobility or the future of test automation or the future of work from home?

Dan McFall

We talked a lot about automation. One of the things I think is still out there, I think it's why AI is rising in popularity, but I worry about silver bullets in tech and the magic of all of those types of things. And I've been doing this a while. So sometimes I even get a little cynical about the areas where there's just tons of investment because I'm like, we're just all gonna get really excited and then be a little disappointed. And that's a shame, because I think AI does bring a lot to the table, but I I think what people are really looking for there is actually test automation is too hard. It's always been a little too hard. And mobile makes it even harder. Because mobile applications are a little overly complex. Operating systems are a little more complex. You have two separate code bases, you have to think about between iOS and Android and even mobile web. Safari on my iPhone is very different than Safari on my laptop, even though it looks exactly the same. So one of the biggest trends we're continuing to see in the AI is starting to have promise is just around making it easier to do automation. That a huge one. Anything you can do to make it easier to do automation. And I still think low code, scanning-based AI gets you started, which is kind of a way of saying even smarter record and play. Those are going to be huge trends. They will continue to help. It's very hard to find very good automation engineers. It's especially hard to find mobile ones. So I think that trend will continue to go forward. We're doing efforts around helping people make automation even easier and making automation more performative. It's still kind of slow in mobile. So how do we make it faster? How do we do more and go faster?

The work from home thing, I'll be very curious. I'm going to be very, very curious. We sort of already had a work from home policy being in software development. Most software development companies do. It'll be interesting what happens with these big enterprises? I think it's gonna go pretty well. And then we kind of talked about money. I always think the second enterprises go, "Oh, I don't have to pay for all this real estate and office and infrastructure, and I can just give some people some stipends for internet, especially if I'm a telecom and provide internet to begin with." I think you're going to see that happen. They're going to figure out it's actually cheaper for them, so we're going to see that pick up some steam. Like I said, what will be interesting is what they do for the social side. Humans do need interaction with one another. And I actually saw a thing, just kind of interesting, that was like, just have a meaningless video call with your team once a week and talk sports and talk about your kids and do the things you would do at the office. Because if you're a 100% work-from-home culture, you're going to start missing those interactions. And then my last tidbit, this is just going to be advice: remember to log off. It is super easy if you're working from home for the first time to turn it into a 24/7 job really, really fast. There's tons of articles around this but even I struggle with this still to this day. Log off. Take time. Spend time with your family. Just because it's at home, don't turn it into your job all the time. Your psyche will appreciate that, your emotions and your family as well. That's my one bit of advice from somebody who's been working from home 50% for the last couple of years.

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